ERROL CASTENS: Gardening tips and topics

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Yes, it’s still hotter than blue blazes, but it’s not a bit too early to start thinking about – and doing something about – fall gardening.
If your favorite garden supply place still has tomato plants, it’s a good time to get a second round of them going. Tomatoes are subject to enough diseases that it often takes a second planting in midsummer to keep a harvest going until frost. (Unfortunately, not enough gardeners replant to make it worthwhile for most stores to restock in July.) Trellising not only will give bigger yields with fewer blemishes, but it may actually help your tomatoes survive the first frost or two in the fall.

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There’s also still time to get good yields of peas, beans, squash and many other summer crops planted now from seed. Germination will probably require extra moisture, but if you have heavy clay, as I do, it’s better to thoroughly soak the planting trench or hole, then drop seed and cover with dry soil. If you water from the top after planting the seed, the soil will likely crust over, making it harder for seeds to emerge.

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If you want cool-weather crops, now’s prime time for starting broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and some other cole crops from seed – indoors, in trays, under the same lights I urged you to buy way back last winter. In late August or early September we’ll set out the resulting plants and look forward to tasty harvests in November. Some garden centers will carry such fall crops, but sometimes they arrive a bit too late for the best shot at a crop before hard freeze.

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For fresh food all winter, start now solarizing a site for a hoophouse. Solarizing is covering the ground with clear plastic for four to six weeks to heat the soil, killing most of the weed seeds and pathogens in it. (Adding compost when you plant will help restore some of the good biota to the soil.) Later, you can build a hoophouse – an unheated greenhouse – that’ll keep your family in salad greens even during the bitterest cold that our winters can throw at us. Plenty of places on the Internet provide instructions.

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If you’re such a fan of farmers’ markets that you’ve become friendly with certain growers, it wouldn’t hurt to tell them now if you’d like next year to buy a particular kind of fruit or vegetable that you haven’t seen at the market. Letting them know before this growing season’s end gives farmers time to learn what’s required for that crop and whether it’s practical for them to try growing it.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens, who doesn’t know how not to garden, at errol.castens@journalinc.com.